In the health care and hospital industry, one thing is certain: constant change. From emerging technologies to evolving federal and state laws to new ways to care for patients, things change rapidly in today’s health care landscape.
The Texas Hospital Association has a dedicated team to develop accessible programs to help members strategize and meet the challenges of frequent changes in regulations and operations head-on.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, information was changing even more rapidly than usual. Because of this, the THA education team launched an inordinate amount of webinars at no cost to members to ensure they were up to date on everything going on with COVID-19.
“We — like everyone else — were adjusting and learning how to be effective working from home and all the challenges that came along with that,” said Shirley LaVergne, education manager at THA.
The education team had to quickly learn best practices on delivering education in a virtual environment and then turn around and teach speakers, staff members and attendees how to best use the virtual education platforms. “The biggest hurdle initially was that our team had to learn completely new skill sets. Delivering completely virtual programs is different from just one webinar,” said Lindsay Thompson, senior director of education and governance programs at THA.
“We’ve really grown stronger as a team throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve had to rely on each other and our colleagues in other departments to work together,” said Ann Pargac, director of education at THA.
THA’s Annual Conference Goes Virtual
The THA Annual Conference & Expo has been taking place for decades. The well-attended event brings together influential and innovative health experts to guide Texas hospital leaders through operational and financial trends, public policy concerns, regulations and legislative outcomes that affect operations and patient care.
A few months into the pandemic, it was clear that the 2021 THA Annual Conference & Expo could not be held in person. The education team had to reimagine the in-person conference and expo to an entirely virtual experience.
After the decision was made, it was all hands on deck at THA. The communications team worked to rebrand marketing materials to reflect a virtual conference. The legal team worked to ensure that THA was able to postpone the events’ various contracts to another year when in-person conferences were feasible. And the education team had to start finding virtual vendors for the online conference.
“We had to do a ton of research in a short time span. We reached out to colleagues at other associations to see how they were adapting to a virtual environment for conferences. There was a lot of research and demos on different platforms to see what would work best for our members,” said LaVergne.
After months of researching, planning and marketing, a record-breaking 851 hospital leaders registered to attend the inaugural virtual THA Annual Conference & Expo.
The day before the first day of the conference, Texas was hit with a historic winter storm — leaving thousands across the state without power or running water. THA swiftly made the decision to postpone the online conference to conserve power and allow hospital leaders to focus on caring for their patients and staff members.
When the decision was made, only 40% of THA staff members had power and were able to get online to work. THA had to strategically use staff when they had intermittent power to turn around the postponement. Using the limited available resources, the education team was able to successfully reschedule the event. The conference took place a few weeks later and was well attended.
“This whole experience showed us the grace and compassion that our members, speakers and staff have. We didn’t receive any complaints, only appreciation for what we were doing for our members,” said Thompson.
Because members appreciated the virtual option, particularly rural hospital members, THA’s 2022 Annual Conference & Expo is set to take place Feb. 8-9 with both online and in-person attendance options.
The “New Normal” for THA’s Education Team
There has always been a wide variety of program types based on what members are seeking. Now that THA broadened the format in which it can offer programs, there is even more variety in the types of educational opportunities offered.
Texas is a big state, so it can be hard to meet and network with peers at other hospitals. With new technology, THA members have unique opportunities for networking and peer-to-peer learning. Each program THA offers — whether in person, virtual or hybrid — creates unique opportunities for THA to engage with members to assess their needs.
“Our education programs serve as a source of continuing education credits that our members need and want. Whether it be for continuing medical, nursing, finance or legal education, we’re proud to offer that as a benefit to members,” said LaVergne.
Learning Through the Pandemic
The THA Education team shares lessons learned after a year of pivoting THA’s educational offerings.
Lindsay Thompson, Senior Director of Education and Governance Programs
“The pandemic has thrust a lot of businesses into a world that we were already on the cusp of in terms of online delivery of education. Hybrid offerings and live-stream education are things that we have been discussing over the last few years but felt would be complicated and costly. But we had to make that commitment during the pandemic, and it was much simpler than we thought it would be. There is value in online education that very much complements the value of in-person learning. It provides THA with a great opportunity to deliver education, meetings and resources to a wider audience.”
Ann Pargac, Director of Education
“I think that everyone is so much more adaptable now. They’re open to new ideas because they’ve seen the progress that we’ve been able to make over the past 18 months. The pandemic opened a lot of eyes to what is possible and made people less set in their ways. Our members are more open to virtual learning opportunities. At our virtual conference last year, we brought in over 300 first-time attendees.”
Shirley LaVergne, Education Manager
“We’ve all found resiliency in ourselves that maybe we didn’t realize was there. It’s strengthened our working relationships at THA. We know we can depend on each other in a virtual or in-person environment. It’s allowed us to evolve and modernize how we work and provide services for our members.”